ST. LOUIS -- If you haven't figured it out by now, you haven't been paying attention. These St. Louis Cardinals don't play short series. You sign up to follow them, you're going to get your money's worth. And then some.
The Redbirds, who needed a second try to finish off the Nationals in their National League Division Series earlier this month, will require at least one more shot at the Giants if they're to win a second straight NL pennant. Over the past two seasons, the Cards have played at least six games in each of their three best-of-seven series, and they have gone the distance in both of their best-of-fives.
With a chance to clinch on Friday at home, the Cardinals couldn't get it done. Barry Zito cast a spell on Cards hitters, and a single inning sunk Lance Lynn as they fell, 5-0, at Busch Stadium.
The good news for the defending World Series champions is that they've been here before. The bad news for them is, so have the other guys.
For all the correct talk of how St. Louis is battle tested, San Francisco is as well. The Giants overcame an even tougher hurdle than this one in the last round, winning three straight games on the road to dig out of a 2-0 hole against the Reds in their NLDS.
"San Francisco is a great city," said third baseman David Freese, "but I wish we weren't going back."
Largest margin of defeat by the Cardinals in a shutout during the postseason
The Cardinals still have preferred position, needing to win one of two, but they're fully aware that they'd better not get lazy. If Chris Carpenter and the Cards' bats can't top Ryan Vogelsong and the NL West champs on Sunday, Giants ace Matt Cain awaits on Monday in Game 7.
"It would have been great to finish it off here in front of our fans," said reliever Mitchell Boggs. "But their guy was fantastic tonight. I don't think you take anything away from Barry Zito. He went out there and won them that game. We've got to win one more game, and we've got two chances to do it. So we've got to go out to San Francisco and play the way we're capable of playing."
The common tone in the home clubhouse at Busch Stadium on Friday night was a calm resolve. The Cardinals have seen far too much over the past two Octobers to panic now.
"[If] you come in here with your head down, you go into San Fran with your head down and you can't pick it back up," said closer Jason Motte. "It's one game. Turn the page and go out there and do what we can to win the next one."
Often it seems that teams lament missing the chance to land a finishing blow in a postseason series. But even that is something the Cards have overcome. They beat the Nats in the NLDS despite missing their first chance to clinch, and in 2006, they eliminated the Mets on their second try in Game 7 of the NLCS.
"We're still up in the series," said second baseman Daniel Descalso. "We would like to have won tonight and not have to go back to San Francisco, but nothing has been easy for us. So we'll be ready to go on Sunday."
So, once again, it will be a long series for the Cardinals. They'll head west, hoping it's only for one game.
"We never [thought] for a second that these guys are going to go away," said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny. "They're a good team, and they're going to keep fighting, we know that. It just comes down to execution. They executed today better than we did."